We began our journey back to Wellington, New Zealand on the morning of April 22. To relieve the transportation burden from our family, we opted to take a taxi to the Grand Junction, Colorado. I arranged the taxi the day before, requesting a van and a 07:00 arrival.
When we travel, we do not like drama. To help avoid drama, we like to arrive early. Our 07:00 departure meant arriving at the airport almost exactly two hours before our departure time. The taxi company apparently did not understand our desire. We began watching for the taxi about ten minutes before the requested time. At 07:00, with no taxi in sight, I called the company. They assured me the taxi was on its way. Another ten minutes went by, still no taxi. I called again. I received the same message. Finally, at 07:20, the taxi arrived.
Our first disappointment was the taxi’s late arrival. The next disappointment was the vehicle, a Toyota Prius, not the requested van. I specifically asked for a van because of the amount of our luggage. After much trial and error, our larger luggage pieces fit in the rear hatch of the taxi. Our carry-on luggage ended up in the front passenger seat.
Departing the house nearly 30-minutes late made us both nervous. The good news is that the drive to the airport does not take very long. Secondly, the Grand Junction airport is quite small. That means one does not need to closely adhere to the airline advice of arriving at least two hours prior to departure.
The United Airlines employee that checked us in for our flight was extremely nice. That was refreshing since United had just been in the news for dragging a passenger off one of their planes.
On the other side of the security checkpoint, we ate breakfast. Well, breakfast is a bit of a strong word, especially when referring to a ham and cheese croissant and a cup of coffee. Regardless, it was good and it filled our void.
Unlike the taxi, our plane pushed away from the gate eight minutes early. An hour later, we arrived in Denver. After a bit of a layover, our flight from Denver to LAX pushed back early too. It was like we had hit the jackpot! In about two-hours, we arrived at LAX. We retrieved our luggage, got our rental car, and headed to our rest stop hotel; the Marriott Residence Inn on Century Boulevard.
Leslie and I left Colorado Springs on April 3, a day earlier than we had planned. Our trip back to Fruita, Colorado included four mountain passes; Ute Pass, Wilkerson Pass, Hoosier Pass, and Vail Pass. The weather forecast called for heavy snowfall beginning the afternoon of April 3. We did not wish to be stranded in a snow storm.
We were on the road by about 06:00. It was a cloudy, dreary day. Alma, Colorado is at foot of the eastern side of Hoosier Pass. That is where we first encountered snow. It was not heavy, but it was snowing. The snow continued until we reached Breckenridge, Colorado. That town is at the foot of the western side of Hoosier Pass. The snow was never bad enough to impact the road conditions.
At Frisco, Colorado we merged onto Interstate 70 west, beginning our ascent of Vail Pass. We encountered a little bit of snow near the summit of Vail Pass; but, just as before, it was not bad enough to impact the road conditions.
We made it to Fruita with no problems. Later that evening, we saw on the news that the State closed many of the roads through the Rocky Mountains because of the heavy snow. We were glad to have made it through unscathed.
From many places in Fruita, one can see the Colorado National Monument. It is one of my favorite places to visit and photograph. I discovered there are some petroglyphs within the boundaries of the Monument. I tracked down the location, drove to the trailhead, and walked the very short distance to the petroglyphs. My disappointment was immense. I did find the rock and petroglyphs I read about. Unfortunately, vandals have chiseled names, initials, and drawings onto the rock surface. It was quite difficult to determine the authentic petroglyphs. I did take some photographs; however, I have not included any here because I just did not like them. On a side note, I did take some other photographs, such as a unique hole in the sandstone near the petroglyphs.
One morning I decided I wanted to find a road that leads up into the Book Cliffs. I remembered the road from a previous trip, but I did not remember how to get there. I took a stab at finding the road. Leslie and I ended up at the North Fruita Desert. Even though there were a lot of people camping in the area, it still had a very empty feel.
Since I could not find the road for which I was looking, we decided to go to the Colorado River. I selected the Kokopelli Trails area near Loma, Colorado.
Leslie and I walked a portion of the Kokopelli Trails. The sandstone formations there are stunning. While we were there, we saw dozens of people on mountain bikes. On the lower trail, I stood beside the trail, waiting for a mountain biker to pass by. With so many cyclists around, we did not have to wait long.
One of the most unique things we saw was a house carved into a sandstone cliff. It was unique; however, we both agreed there was no way we could live in such a home. We were certain the rooms at the back of the home would be quite claustrophobic.
One of the last things Leslie and I did before we returned to New Zealand, was a hike along the Canyon Rim Trail in the Colorado National Monument. The views were stunning. One of my most favorite views; although it was not on the trail, was that of the Balanced Rock. The Colorado National Monument is a must-see for anyone traveling to the Fruita/Grand Junction, Colorado area.
It was quite unusual for us to not be up and on the road at the crack of dawn. On this particular trip from Fruita, Colorado to Colorado Springs, we decided a 08:30 departure time was just fine. The 300-mile journey usually takes about five and one-half hours. That may sound like a long time, but it is such a beautiful drive and the time goes by quickly.
The roads were clear for the entire route. However, on some of the mountain passes, where there was still a tremendous amount of snow on the sides of the road, there were some wet patches. The snow was beginning its spring melt. As we crested the Continental Divide at Hoosier Pass (11,539 feet – 3,517 meters), I remarked at how amazing it is that the droplets of snow melt on either side of the pass end up in different oceans. The snow on the east side melts and drains into the Mississippi River, then the Gulf of Mexico, and finally mixes with the Atlantic Ocean. The snow on the west side melts and drains into the Colorado River, then the Gulf of California, and finally mixes with the Pacific Ocean.
Our norm for the trip had been stopping for lunch at the Pizza Hutt in Fairplay. That was especially true when our children were young and accompanied us on our trips back and forth. Leslie and I were excited to stop there for lunch, relax a little, and reminisce about previous family trips. That would not be the case on this trip.
As I turned to approach the Pizza Hutt, I saw a large for sale sign. The Pizza Hutt was just an empty building now. We were still hungry. I turned around and drove back about one-half mile to the Subway in the gas station. We ordered our subs and sat there to eat. We were both still stinging from the disappointment.
On the way out of the gas station, we bought some bottles of water. We mentioned our disappointment regarding the Pizza Hutt affair. She shared that her boyfriend had worked there. The owner of the franchise shut it down because of employee embezzlement. Armed with that knowledge, we got back in the car and completed our journey.
Every time I travel to Colorado Springs, my trip is not complete unless I visit the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. During our visit, we saw several art students on the upper floor, each of them sketching what they saw. We struck up a conversation with one of the young men. We discovered his father is a professor at Colorado College. His name is Andrew Ramiro Tirado. He made the piece “Lacuna.” A photograph of that piece appears here, followed by some of my other favorites.
While I was in Colorado Springs, I went on a photo trek with two good friends, Ron Krom and James Harris. James has a website showcasing his photographs. One can find that at James Harris Photography.
The site we selected was Helen Hunt Falls. That waterfall is in Cheyenne Canyon on the southwest side of Colorado Springs. I always enjoy photo treks because I always learn something new. I use the new knowledge to try to improve my photography skills.
March 10 was an odd day. I arrived in Los Angeles before I left New Zealand. The International Dateline is an amazing imaginary line on the planet.
I am not much of one for numerology, but I found it unique that my flight was NZ6; it departed from gate 6; and my seat number was 6K.
The flight pushed back from the gate at 19:42 (on March 10), eight minutes early. Once we made our cruising altitude, the flight attendants began serving. The meal began with the following:
Prosciutto with radicchio salad, asparagus, grilled artichokes and blue cheese.
Roasted chicken breast with roasted cauliflower and currant couscous, green olive tapenade salsa and broccolini.
A selection of fine New Zealand cheese served with plum and tamarillo chutney and cracker selection.
After dinner, I settled in to watch a movie. I started with La La Land because of all the hype. It did not last long. I just could not get into the movie. I switched to A Cat Named Bob, but I had the same result. I ended up watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a movie I have probably seen a dozen times.
Finished with the movie, I went to sleep with my other 28 roommates. It surprised me how bumpy the flight was, all through the night.
When I awoke I asked for a cup of black coffee. It was very relaxing to drink my coffee while listening to Vivaldi. Then came breakfast:
Fresh fruit salad with a croissant.
Omelette filled with sun dried tomato and spinach mornay, roasted tomato and piccata ham.
I arrived at LAX at about noon (on March 10). That was nearly eight hours before I left New Zealand!
I checked into the Marriott Residence Inn on Century Boulevard. One thing I really wanted to do was visit the In-N-Out Burger near LAX. Mr. Google was kind enough to let me know the restaurant was only about one mile from the hotel. I decided to walk.
In about 20 minutes I was within a few hundred feet of the In-N-Out Burger. I stopped there because I was directly underneath the flight path for runway 24R at LAX. It was fascinating watching the planes overhead, seemingly so close that one could almost touch them. When I tired of that, I finished my walk to the restaurant.
In the parking lot, one must navigate through the endless stream of vehicles in the drive-through lane. Entering the In-N-Out Burger, I was instantly in a sea of people. I was soon able to discern there were three less than perfect lines leading to three cash registers. I began my wait about seven or eight people from a register. I used my time to review the menu. It was surprisingly short and inexpensive. For example, for only $5.95, one could have a cheeseburger, French fries, and a drink. That was my meal of choice.
After ordering, the sea of people shifted a little to one side while everyone waited for their order. I found a small piece of real estate near the drink machines on which to stand. From that vantage point, I could see there were nearly as many employees behind the counter as there were people waiting. The choreography was amazing as an endless stream of orders made their way through the galley and back to the front counter for distribution.
Soon, I heard my order number called. I picked up my order and walked outside. There are several tables outside. I found an empty table on the south side that was directly adjacent to the flight path for runway 24R. I sat there enjoying my lunch, thrilled by each jet that flew by me. It reminded me of watching the planes landing at Princess Juliana International Airport in Sint Maarten (please see my St. Maarten post, https://arewethereyettravel.blog/2013/01/05/st-maarten/ ).
I walked back over to the flight path when I finished lunch, just to watch a few more jets. That was when I saw an Emirates Airlines A380 fly overhead on final approach. For those that do not know, an Airbus A380 is a double-deck airplane; the largest passenger airplane in the world. Watching that lumbering beast approach, I found it hard to believe that nearly 1.5 million pounds (700 tons) of metal can fly. The plane appears as though it should fall out of the sky.
The second item on my to do list for the day was to visit Venice Beach. I hailed a taxi and sat back for my $40 ride.
The taxi driver dropped me off at North Venice Beach Boulevard and Ocean Front Walk. I walked through the parking lot and across the beach. I stood there watching the Pacific Ocean roll onto the beach.
Back on Ocean Front Walk, people were swarming and strolling along in both directions. Mostly food outlets and tourist shops populate Ocean Front Walk. I began my stroll heading north. I quickly noticed one additional type of shop, medicinal marijuana. Each medical marijuana shop had several people standing in front. As pedestrians stopped, the medical marijuana staff tried to determine what medical problems the pedestrian may have and if medical marijuana was the cure. As anyone who knows me might imagine, I simply kept walking.
Very shortly, I found myself standing near a garish orange building at Muscle Beach. There were a few weightlifters in the “weight pen.” I enjoyed seeing something I had heard about for so many years, but never visited.
Near the “weight pen” were some benches. I sat on one of the benches and watched the other people on Ocean Front Walk. I captured photos of many of them.
A little farther along, I found Zoltar in front of some small shops. The fortune telling Zoltar machine had a starring role in the film Big. It was a wish at Zoltar that turned a 12-year old boy into an adult, played by Tom Hanks. I do not know if this may have been “the” Zoltar, but I took a photograph anyway.
There were many eclectic people on the Walk. I saw a man playing a grand piano. Hunching over the keyboard meant I never saw his face. His moppish hair also made it difficult to see his face. Not far from him, I saw a man on a tricycle decked out in full mountain-man buckskin; including a fox hat. I do not know how he stood that outfit. I thought it was entirely too hot to dress like that. He was talking with some men that appeared to want to film him for some sort of film.
Ocean Front Walk is a pedestrian walkway. However, from time to time, a police car, a lifeguard car, or even a firetruck drove along the Walk.
By far, the oddest sight was the Venice Beach Freak Show. It is a greenish-gray building on the Walk. The signs on the building touted such things as “See the Freaks of Nature,” “Lady Twisto,” and “Giant Rat.” Sitting on the stairs to the Freak Show was a bearded lady. In front of her, on the sidewalk, was a little man. They both tried to get passersby interested in buying a ticket for the Freak Show. I opted out.
The final sight of the day was a man carrying a cross along the Walk. After seeing him, I found a taxi and rode back to the hotel.
I was at LAX early the next morning for my flight to Denver. The flight was uneventful. The plane went right by Grand Junction, my final destination. I found myself wishing I could get off right there. Regardless, it was on to Denver. As we flew, it was easy to see just how much snow was still in the Rocky Mountains.
At the Denver International Airport, I had time to kill before my final flight. I went into a restaurant overlooking the tarmac. I had some nachos and a beer, something that is very hard to find in Wellington, New Zealand (the nachos, not the beer).
After a one-hour flight, I had finally made it to Grand Junction. I had not seen Leslie since the first part of February. Even worse, I had not seen our son, Tyler, since December, 2014. It was a great reunion.
We collected my baggage and drove the 20 minutes to Fruita, Colorado. That is where I saw our daughter, Hillary. This was the first time the Vice family had been all together since December, 2014, when Tyler graduated from Naval boot camp. It was wonderful to be as a family again.